How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Demopolis Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Demopolis AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Demopolis homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Demopolis AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their routine activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Demopolis AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Demopolis AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Demopolis AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical factors to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Demopolis AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Demopolis AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Demopolis AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Demopolis AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Demopolis AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Demopolis AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Demopolis Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best legal assistant certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Demopolis home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Demopolis Alabama.